The government’s much-criticised scheme to build a massive new business and housing district on 1700ha of reclaimed land in waters off Lantau is certain to go ahead.
In her annual policy address on Wednesday chief executive Carrie Lam vowed to proceed with the plan, currently estimated to cost HK$624 billion, making it the easily most expensive public works project in the city’s history.
The Legco Finance Committee, now dominated by pro-government members, began considering approval for the initial HK$550 million funding on Friday.
But in her speech Lam struck a defensive note, calling on people “to act in an objective and fair manner with the long-term interests of Hong Kong in mind”
This is a departure from her government’s longstanding claim of wide public support for the scheme.
Lam also vowed to “continue to listen to the views of various sectors of the community,” despite having rejected widely-held criticisms about the cost, the necessity and the ecological risks posed by the project.
Even pro-government legislators are querying it, with more than 20 lodging questions about the project. They are also determined not to appear in a rush to approve the funding application, scmp.com reports.
One pro-Beijing lawmaker, Wong Kwok-kin, a member of Lam’s cabinet, complained about the public backlash they will face for voting for Lantau Tomorrow.
Appearing before Legco on Friday, Development Secretary Michael Wong faced questioning about the cost and viability, the likelihood of delays, and protection of country parks.
“We can’t issue a blank cheque and just allow you to proceed with the study and all the steps subsequent to it. We need to be careful about every penny spent,” Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of the Business and Professionals Alliance according to scmp.com.
Wong was also asked whether reclamation was a better option than building in country parks, which account for around two-thirds of SAR land.
He said there was little support for building in parks and that it would take additional legislation.
But in a comment that carries some significance for Lantau residents, Wong downplayed the second phase of the scheme, which envisages a 700ha reclamation around Hei Ling Chau, just off Mui Wo.
Without elaborating, he described the initial phase of 1,000 ha reclamation around Kau Yi Chau as the “real” component of the project, and the second 700 ha phase of Hei Ling Chau as “virtual.”
Tom Yam of the Citizens Task Force for Land Resources has accused the government of “magical thinking” in believing the project would help solve short-term housing needs and that it will be ready by 2033.
Yam points out that government’s own forecasts anticipate the city’s population to start falling from a peak of 8.1 million from 2041.
He said the government had already identified 1400 ha in land from brownfield sites in the New Territories, while land developers had warehoused a further 1000ha.
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A six-year-old girl is in hospital with head injuries after a falling from a first floor window in Mui Wo yesterday morning.
The girl, surnamed Shum, lost her footing while opening a window in her family home at Silver Waves Court at around 9:45am, Apple Daily reported.
She was taken to North Lantau Hospital by ambulance.
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The Hong Kong government is planning to build public housing for as many as 4000 people on the old Mui Wo high school site and the adjacent car park.
The scheme appears to sideline the decade-long Mui Wo Facelift project and threatens to drastically change the character of the village as well as put further strain on transport and parking resources.
The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) appointed US engineering firm Aecom to conduct a feasibility study in April 2019, but has made no announcements and has not presented it to the district council.
It remained unknown to Lantau residents until it was confirmed in a letter from CEDD assistant director KH Tau last month to Fung Siuyin, a staffer in the office of Eddie Chu and former district council candidate.
The secretive process also points to the potentially conflicted role of Lantau district councillor Randy Yu.
The school, closed since 2007 and officially known as the Mui Wo New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School, is part-owned by peak rural body Heung Yee Kuk. Yu is a kuk councillor and his brother-in-law Kenneth Lau is chairman.
Yu has declined to respond to queries from Lantau News and local residents about the housing project.
It is not clear what role he has played in the project, whether the school has already been sold, and if so on what terms.
Tom Yam from the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources estimates that with a plot ratio of “about 7,000 to 8,000 sq m, the possible number of housing units can be in the range of 700 to 1,500, giving a population increase of 2,000 to 4,000.”
This would mean twice the population sharing the limited public space and transport services.
“If implemented, the character of Mui Wo will be drastically changed with all the implications on its infrastructure and various public service requirements.”
Fung Siuyin agreed the issues were the excessive scale of the project and the secrecy. She said it was too large a housing project in a small area.
She also questioned why the development would eliminate the village’s new car park, which provides about three-quarters of the parking in the pier area. “This is one of the craziest things about it, ” she said.
She said the lack of consultation excluded other community uses for the site, including primary or pre-school education or elderly care.
Since the school closed down 13 years ago a number of efforts have been made to re-use it. In 2009 a plan by the Education Bureau to lease it out to the Christian Zheng Sheng College for drug rehabilitation fell through after strong opposition from local residents.
Six years ago the bureau entertained offers from several schools, including the Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial School in Tai O, to take over the site, but for some reason it rejected them all.
Fung said an ex-principal of the school had proposed a Mui Wo education project to the bureau recently but had also been rejected. She said she would take this up with bureau officials.
In a letter to Planning Department director Raymond Lee, Yam said he applauded the efforts to convert a vacant school site to public housing.
“The government should have done so much earlier. This is not an objection to develop public housing in Mui Wo. This is a criticism of your planning process and failure to inform/consult the affected community until the community noticed activities in the vacant school and raised the question to CEDD.”
Yam points out that when the Planning Department reviewed vacant school sites across Hong Kong in early 2018 it did not identify the Mui Wo site for conversion to residential use.
Additionally, the Task Force on Land Supply report in February 2018 stressed that the Planning Department “should take into account various planning factors including the planning intention for these sites and the surrounding land uses and environment.”
Aecom, which was awarded an $11 million contract for the feasibility study, is a publicly-listed US firm much favoured by the Hong Kong government for major public works.
Ashleigh Theunissen, the organiser of a Mui Wo pop-up market, says she’s been overwhelmed with interest in the retail event.
Since announcing it on Facebook she says she’s had inquiries from people wanting to sell crafts such as jewellery and fabrics, importers of goods including Kenyan products, and those offering edibles such as scones, jams and cookies.
The market, located next to Pause Cafe (opposite the children’s playground) is planned for September 12-13.
With the high level of interest already shown, Ashleigh is confident she can put on further markets every two weeks.
It’s a small space though, with only room for around 10 stalls, so places will be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis.
Ashleigh, who lives at Tai Tei Tong, said she is setting up the market to provide “something new and exciting” for Lantau on the weekend.
“It also gives people the opportunity to grow their small businesses.”
To become a stallholder, contact Ashleigh for a registration form at email@example.com.
You can also follow @muiwomarket on Instagram and Facebook.
Forget the security law: here comes the election – and you the voter can play your part.
The 2020 Legco election is scheduled for September 6, with some democrat activists calling the most critical election in our lifetimes. That may be hyperbole.
But they are also saying that the new security law may make this the last where candidates are not screened for their political sympathies. Probably not hyperbole.
To maximise their chances, and to fly the flag for the democratic process, the pro-democracy camp will hold a primary this weekend to choose its candidates for the Legco poll.
The primary is open to all registered voters. You just need to bring your Hong Kong ID card and proof of address to the voting station.
With the drama over the security law, it is easy to forget that the democrat forces obliterated the pro-Beijing parties in last year’s District Council elections,
Thanks to an energised electorate and a huge voter registration drive, they tripled their number of seats and took control of every district council (except ours).
With that sort of turnout, democrats believe they have a strong chance of winning control of Legco.
Of course, the communist party forces have been struck by the same thought, which is one reason they rushed through the new security law.
In any case, elections and electioneering are still legal, especially a privately-held one like this, organised by a group called Power for Democracy.
The voting is simple but the background is a bit complicated, because Hong Kong’s electoral system is designed that way. Here’s a brief explainer.
The Legislative Council (Legco) has 70 seats: 35 geographical seats of the kind you find in a regular democratic system, and 35 functional constituency seats that you don’t find anywhere else. A functional constituency is a business or sectoral seat, like agriculture and fisheries, Heung Yee Kuk or education.
It’s no secret that Beijing officials created the functional constituencies to shore up their monopoly on power. It has worked so far; democrat parties have always won the popular vote and pro-CCP parties have dominated the FC vote.
Right now the pro-democracy camp holds 24 seats; that number was 30 after the 2016 election, but the government found a way to disqualify six members.
In this weekend’s primary, every Lantau voter gets two votes:
* the local seat, known as New Territories West.
* the so-called district council ‘superseat’, technically known as the District Council (Second) Seat.
In Hong Kong’s system of multi-member constituencies, NT West returns nine members. The democrat parties currently hold six and don’t believe they will win enough votes to take a seventh. But eight democracy groups, known as ‘lists,’ are competing, so they are seeking your help in whittling that down to six. Choose just one list.
The ‘superseat’ is open to sitting district councillors from all over Hong Kong (there is another district council FC in which councillors themselves vote). Again, your job is to choose just one candidate or list.
That’s it. Happy voting.
AT A GLANCE
What: Pro-democracy camp primary election
When: 9am-9pm, July 11-12
Where: Mui Wo: 8 Ngan Kwong Wan Rd, opposite Ngan Wan Estate Block 3.
Tung Chung: G/F Ying Fook House, Ying Tung Estate (July 11 & 12)
Fuk Yat House, Yat Tung Estate, open area (July 11); Tung Chung Town Centre Bus Terminal (July 12)
Bring: Hong Kong ID plus proof of address (eg, utility bill)
Further information & donations: Power for Democracy Facebook page
The vacant Heung Yee Kuk school in Mui Wo has been reopened to store material for the planned Penny’s Bay quarantine centre.
Health Department officials have denied it will be used as a quarantine facility itself, Apple Daily reported.
The sudden flurry of activity earlier this week, bedding, tables and chairs piled up in the school ground, prompted concerns from local residents that the long disused site may be deployed as a quarantine centre.
Security guards at the school gate said some local residents alarmed they had called police.
The Health Department said it was using the school to store furniture and other items ahead of the anticipated opening of the Penny’s Bay facility next month.
The Apple Daily noted that some of the items, including mattresses, were stored uncovered in the schoolgrounds and had no protection from the sun or the rain.
The school, officially known as the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School, has been closed since 2007. It is one of more than 100 vacant school sites across the city.
Fung Siu Yin is the challenger in Sunday’s district council poll and a part of a new face in local politics.
Standing for the Lantau seat, she is pro-democratic, green and a member of a new group called Islands Connect, which is ensuring that for the first time democrats contest seats in all four islands in the district.
Fung, 33, has lived in Tung Chung for 20 years. She has worked as a Legco research assistant for the past eight years, and is currently on Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s staff.
She opposes Lantau Tomorrow Vision, which she says has had scant scrutiny from the council. If elected she would call public hearings across Lantau to debate the project.
She has also done a good deal of work on public transport issues, finding that South Lantau residents object to the Sunday fare hikes and want to see more frequent services of both bus and ferry.
Having spent her early career working on senior and social welfare issues, she also advocates expanding community centres and medical services for the elderly and wants to set aside land for a retiree-run community farm.
The vacant Mui Wo high school, the wetlands and the Mui Wo improvement works are also high on her agenda.
Here is a condensed version of Lantau News’ interview with Siu Yin.
Why are you running for District Council?
I have lived in Tung Chung for about 20 years. In 2014 I knew we had big developments coming into Lantau. From that we tried to have some education and oral history documentation to tell people what would happen.
In 2018, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision was announced. In those four years, I had learnt more about Lantau people, and we know more about their needs. There were many problems with elderly citizens, and some education needs.
In our group, Save Lantau Alliance, we discussed the elections and we wanted to have a role, to have more debate in the community to talk about what we want for Lantau’s future. That’s why we are running for election this year.
How do you see the role of the district council?
They get a lot of information from the government, and the government often consults with them on education, bus services, medical services, etc.
The councillors also can vote for the chief executive and one of them can be elected to Legco. They can meet with different government departments, they can share their ideas. They have many ways to work with the government.
You talk about reforming the district council. What would you do?
The Islands District Council has 18 members, including eight ex officio. So many people don’t have a voice. So we want to open a platform. We want the residents in the Lantau community, who care about the community, they can voice out.
For example, the bus company wanted to increase bus fares. They just informed the district council but most Lantau people didn’t know. In May we did a street survey. We found more than 68% of people didn’t know the bus company was applying to increase the fare.
We will have social media channels, like Facebook or WhatsApp. Give people many channels to share their opinions. We think if the district councils are working, then there will be less anger in the community.
Can district councils do anything to address the current political crisis?
We can open many forums to discuss what people are ask for. Is it reasonable or not reasonable, what is the meaning of the five demands, and so on. Because now you are blue, I am yellow, we are totally divided into two colours and we don’t want to talk to each other. It’s not a healthy relationship.
Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a huge project and the government seems determined to build it. What can you do in the district council?
If we can get to District Council, we will have an agenda item to discuss Lantau Tomorrow Vision. We want to have a public hearing. It’s not local to Central, so we will have public hearings in Lantau – in Mui Wo, Tai O, and so on, and we can hear people’s opinions.
How to help Lantau’s senior population?
Lantau has a population of about 24,000, of which about 7,000-8,000 are over 50. But we have just one elderly home in Mui Wo. Two years ago, the home in Tai O closed.
The medical system is very important for them. We have just two clinics, with a limited service level, in Mui Wo and Tai O. It’s not enough. Also in Mui Wo the population has risen to more than 6,000. That’s why we ask the clinic employ two doctors, now just one.
We ask for community support service for the elderly. Some of them need help in cooking and cleaning, so they can live in their homes. We would like to set up community care services where they go to people’s homes, help cook and clean.
We also need community centres for the elderly, where they can read newspapers, sing together, have some health checks.
Right now we have a small centre in Mui Wo. In Tai O – nothing. In South Lantau – zero. NGOs provide services from Tung Chung, but that’s not reasonable. So that is why we hope to have centres in South Lantau and Tai O.
Also, elderly people feel bored. They say they would like to have a community garden. They know how to farm. They can raise chickens; chickens can eat waste food that humans won’t eat.
They can provide value in return – food, recycling, education for young people as well. So they become teachers. It’s more positive, right?
What is the status of the Mui Wo school?
The school [the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School] has been closed for 12 years. We want to re-use the school for the elderly services, medical service and also education services – for kindergarten, primary school – so it is not wasted.
In the last few months we have had communication with the residents. Many of the Mui Wo kids are under six years old. They are going to Tai O, Tung Chung or Tsuen Wan for kindergarten. We see here is a need in the community. We have an empty school – it’s a perfect match.
You have done some work on public transport issues. What have you found?
Two months ago we did a survey and held a forum.
For buses, the most important thing people are concerned about is service frequency. People also worry about the safety of the double decker buses. On the upper deck most of them don’t have seat belts. There’s no room for luggage upstairs, either, so they have to put their suitcases in the aisle. It’s dangerous.
For both bus and ferry, people want to cancel the extra charge for public holidays and Sundays. They think it’s not reasonable.
The government gives subsidies to ferry companies. We want to improve transparency and open up the financials of the ferry companies so we know how they are spending the subsidies.
People also care about frequency. We need more ferries at peak times. The bus and ferry companies and residents don’t have the chance to communicate. District council members can create a platform for us to talk – we can hold a meeting once every two months.
The government has made promises over the Pui O wetlands but has done nothing. How can you help protect the wetlands?
We have a law to protect the South Lantau wetlands and also to protect the buffalo. Two years ago the government agreed to update the law, but this year the Chief Executive Policy Address again failed to mention it.
I think district council members can raise this issue again.
In South Lantau and Mui Wo, we have different parties. One will love and care about the environment. They know the ecosystem is very important for the community. The second – they want more development. They have the intention to destroy the wetlands. They also have the intention to move the buffalo and cows.
The first party includes many of the residents. They love the buffalos and love the wetland, but they are scared to speak out. If district council members can collect people’s ideas about the wetlands and how to deal with problems of the buffalo and try to find a way to form a community consensus.
Also we have connections with the FEHD and the EPD, some of them are friends. We ask them what are the problems they face. Resources? Manpower? Rural party problems? We want to know what the problems are and try to find a way to protect the wetland and the buffalos.
I think education is very important. We have some residents who know a great deal about the cattle and buffalo and are willing to share. If more people know how to communicate with the animals and understand their behaviour, that will help.
What is the progress of the Mui Wo facelift?
They call it the Mui Wo improvement works. The first question is: improvements for whom? For tourists or residents?
When we saw the plan from 2017, we didn’t see improvement for residents. They moved the bicycle parking far away, and then moved the restaurants into the ferry pier building.
We collected some opinions. People really strongly disagree with moving the bike parking. It’s not convenient for them. But now the problem is not enough space. That’s why we have bicycles everywhere. So people suggest that we should extend the bike parking because more people are moving here.
So we asked the CEDD for more information. They told us the plan was made in 2017, but can change and they are considering changes. But they don’t think it will happen immediately – maybe it might take another five or ten years to finalise this stage.
For the residents we think that is good, so we have more time to discuss what we need. Hopefully more time to debate and more time for them to change their plan so it works for residents, not just tourists.
The Hong Kong government will issue tenders for the construction of fibre links to 45 Lantau villages – part of a new scheme to provide faster rural internet across Hong Kong.
Network operators will have to commit to building fibre connections to villages that will enable download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
Within each village, residents will connect to the fibre backbone via the existing copper network using DSL technology. Currently PCCW’s combined fibre/DSL service offers downlinks of up 100Mbps.
The scheme to subsidise internet service was foreshadowed in Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s policy address last October.
It is a major departure from the government’s longstanding policy of leaving the telecom industry solely to the commercial operators.
The city is near the top of the world broadband rankings, but 170,000 people have a home or small business internet with download speed of less than 10Mbps.
The plan to bridge the city’s digital divide will not happen quickly, however.
Telecom regulator Ofca says services won’t start rolling out until 2021 at the earliest.
It will start discussions on funding with the Legco IT and Broadcasting Panel next month, the regulator said in a paper to the Islands District Council.
But it does not say how much it will seek for the subsidised rollout.
Ofca says 67 villages in the Islands District qualify for the programme.
Under the tender structure, they will be combined into six different project areas. Operators will be asked to bid on the six projects.
They will be assessed on on the speed of rollout, system design, pricing and the funding required.
According to Ofca, fibre backbones reach all of South Lantau’s major villages except Tai O
But 32 villages on South Lantau and 13 in the Tung Chung area have no fibre connections and will qualify for the scheme. They are:–
MUI WO: Man Kok Tsui, Ngau Kwu Long, Pak Mong, Tai Ho, Wang Tong, Tung Wan Tau
SOUTH LANTAU/PUI O: Mong Tung Wan, San Shek Wan, Shap Long, Tai Long Wan
TAI O: Fan Lau, Kit Hing Back St, Kit Hing St, Lower Keung Shan, Upper Keung Shan, Luk Wu, Leung Uk,Nam Tong Sun Tsuen, Ngong Ping, San Tau, Sha Lo Wan, Sham Shek, Shek Tsai Po (East & West), Tai Long Wan, Tai O Outskirts, Tai O, Yi O
TUNG CHUNG: Chek Lap Kok New Village, Lam Che, Nim Yuen, Ma Wan New Village, Ma Wan Chung, Mok Ka, Ngau Au Village, Pa Mei, Shek Lau Po, Sheung Ling Pei, Tai Po, Tei Tung Tsai, Wong Nai Uk
This is the new double-decker bus that will run between Tung Chung and Mui Wo, starting in the third quarter.
New Lantao Bus Co (NLB), which released the photo this week, says the new bus can carry 88 passengers, up 40-50% from existing single-deck vehicles.
The buses are timed to come into service after residents start moving into the new HOS apartments in Mui Wo, NLB says.
The two HOS estates are expected add approximately 2,000 people to Mui Wo’s population of 5,400.
NLB has ordered ten air-conditioned low-floor vehicles to run on the 3M route.
Each bus can carry 47 passengers on the upper level and 41 seated or standing on the lower level.
The company says it ran trials in June 2016 and November 2017 – in the latter testing it out on the entire 3M journey.
The 3M is the only public transport link between Mui Wo and Tung Chung and is severely crowded during rush hour periods.
But the Transport Department (TD) says the current service has “roughly” enough capacity to support demand.
In a paper submitted to the Islands District Council last October, it said that according to a survey, hour the highest level of bus occupancy at peak hour was 81% in the Mui Wo direction and 88% in the Tung Chung direction.
The TD says the new buses will be equipped with a closed-circuit TV and a ‘black box’ so NLB can monitor the condition of the dirver and the bus operation for safety purposes.
It says fare, route and frequency on the 3M route will remain unchanged after the introduction of the double-deckers.
It is not the first time double-decker buses have run on Lantau roads.
Prior to the construction of the Tsing Ma Bridge in 1997, two-decked buses used to run between Mui Wo and Tong Fuk to carry passengers to and from the ferry pier.
Mui Wo now has a small exhibition space – Ding Ding Art Gallery at Caffe Paradiso.
Tom Midgley, owner of the popular coffee shop, says it is open to anyone in the community who wants a space to show paintings, photos or similar items.
Anyone who wants to use the gallery can contact Tom at his cafe.
The small gallery in Caffee Paradiso’s stairwell is named after Tom’s late but much-loved dog – which helps explain the canine theme in many of the current paintings, which have been created by artists and members of the local community.